Long-Term Kawasaki Ninja 1000: Pirelli Angel GT Tires

Long-term test update: Swapping the stock Dunlops for new Pirelli Angel GTs.

WRIST: Kevin Smith

MSRP (2014): $11,999

MILES: 10,027

MPG: 39

MODS: Pirelli tires

Time to consider the scale of things. Sportbikes like to be small while touring rigs want to be big. How does a sport-touring motorcycle manage its proportions?

Once, STs were mildly reconfigured performance bikes. Think Ducati’s ST3 and 4, Honda’s Interceptor, or Triumph’s Sprint ST. Such bikes are gone from most manufacturers’ lineups—a personal lament of mine—and many modern sport-touring mounts look like full-size tourers to me. Yes, a Concours 14 can flat-out fly, and an FJR1300 swings sweetly through esses. But those are still big, weighty motorcycles.

My Ninja 1000 provides a comfy, upright riding position, but underneath me is a compact chassis with obvious sportbike heritage. Although it’s not directly evolved from a ZX-10R, its dimensions (56.9-inch wheelbase) and bulk (509 pounds wet) clearly reflect sportbike values.

Pirelli Angel GT tires replace the stock Dunlops. A change to a taller, 55-section rear tire raises the Ninja’s tail and improves handling.

Interestingly, Pirelli Angel GT tires I recently mounted feed this balance (pirelli.com; $473 for the set). On the Ninja they feel like a sport tire, with completely predictable and neutral cornering qualities and reassuringly high grip. Yet I think they’re going to last a long while, based on their first 2,400 miles. I chose the taller 55-section rear tire (a stock-size 190/50 is also available) for its modest contributions to ride height and overall gearing.

So now I’m delighted by how the responsive Ninja runs solo over a canyon road or slices through commuter traffic. But what about when I need a packhorse? If I want to load on lots of gear and maybe a passenger, surely this compact bike comes up short?

Not terribly. Business trips to San Francisco and Las Vegas demonstrated that, packing with proper care, the 28-liter hard bags swallow quite a lot. And my primary passenger likes the pillion accommodations much more than I expected. There’s no excess space, for sure, but what’s there is thoughtfully laid out and easy to make best use of. Creative use of what we have is part of the point of motorcycling. We’re roughing it here. If you have to be coddled and comfortable and bring everything with you, take the damn car.

A 900-pound touring bike can often do nearly as well, but I generally prefer something more my own size. Something in better proportion with my modest human frame. I like to partner with an equal. That’s why a motorcycle that weighs 500 pounds feels more motorcycle-y to me than a 700-pounder.

It’s a matter of scale.

This Ninja 1000 has refined my understanding of the great sport-touring compromise. It’s not just about blending capabilities normally at odds, such as back-road agility and freeway comfort. Rather, it’s about infusing a tidy, efficient package with broad, inspirational potential. Doing a lot with a little. Making it all work—and making me really want to ride somewhere—without space or mass or features to waste.

Pirelli Angel GT tires replace the stock Dunlops. A change to a taller, 55-section rear tire raises the Ninja’s tail and improves handling.